2019 Conference USA QB Preview: FAU
It was only two years ago that FAU won 11 games, were CUSA champs, and had a lot of momentum heading into the 2018 season. After that great 2017 season, starting quarterback Jason Driskel decided he was not going to continue playing football, even though he had another year to play. However, that did not affect the FAU hype, it actually grew due to the other quarterbacks on the roster at the time. Competing for the 2018 starting quarterback gig was Chris Robison, De’Andre Johnson, and Rafe Peavey. All three quarterbacks were four stars in high school according to Rivals.com, and all three quarterbacks were transfers. Although I do not know for sure, it is my guess that FAU was the only team from a Group of 5 conference to have three four star quarterbacks on the roster at once. As every FAU fan knows, Robison won the starting job and the other two saw playing time here and there.
Now it is a year later and heading into the 2019 season, the question is still the same as it was heading into the 2018 season, who will start at quarterback? Robison is the returning starter, but he was suspended for all of spring, and I have no clue if he will even be with the team or not during the season. I won’t speculate what will happen to him or get into his off the field issues. Nick Tronti and Justin Agner, both former transfers, got the majority of snaps during the spring. Cordel Littlejohn also figures to potentially be in the mix for the starting job. However, the big news that just went public is former Florida State starting quarterback Deondre Francois joining the FAU program. Adding Francois to the mix here makes the quarterback room even more interesting. Francois, Robison, Tronti, and Agner are all transfers. Like Robison, Francois has had his share of off the field problems, but for the sake of the article, we will stick to the football side of things. The quarterback story alone is enough reason for fans to tune in and watch FAU this year, and while we do not know who will end up taking the majority of snaps under center this year for the Owls, Francois didn’t come to FAU to sit on the bench.
2018 QB Performance
*Robison- leading returning FAU passer (if on team in the fall). 2,533 passing yards, 12 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 63.2cmp%. Also added 211 yards rushing and 3 rushing touchdowns.
*Three former four star quarterbacks on the team.
*De’Andre Johnson had limited playing time and completed 13 passes, 161 yards through the air and 2 passing touchdowns. Johnson also had 178 yards on the ground and 1 rushing score.
*Rafe Peavey played sparingly as well and completed 20 passes, 147 yards through the air and added 1 rushing touchdown.
*As a team FAU ranked 7th in conference in passing yards with 237.
2019 QB Preview
Johnson and Peavey have now moved on and Robison is the only returning FAU quarterback to have completed a pass at FAU. As mentioned earlier, I do not want to speculate on if Robison will be on the team or not come fall. Regardless if he is on the team, I think Francois instantly becomes the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. Robison had an up and down type of year last year. He is clearly a talented guy, but just was too inconsistent at times through-out the year. However, he showed flashes of potential, which was enough to keep him the starter through-out the year. He would take a step forward in his development, and then take a step back, in the same game. I really thought another full offseason would lead to growth and development and we would see him take the next step as a quarterback this season. However, now those chances do not look as likely to happen, at least this year.
Francois had a stellar redshirt freshman year at Florida State in 2016. That season he threw for 3,350 yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and 7 interceptions with a completion percentage right under 59. His toughness and ability to stand in the pocket and take a hit were a big reason why he had such a good season that year. Heading into the 2017 season there was a lot of hype around him and Florida State as a whole. Unfortunately, he got injured in the season opener and he missed the rest of the season. He returned as the starter last year in 2018 and struggled, but in his defense the whole Florida State team struggled under their new head coach, Willie Taggart. Francois took a lot of shots behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him last year. He threw for 2,731 yards with 15 passing touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Even with the year like last year, I don’t think it is fair to put all the blame on him. With an offensive minded coach like Lane Kiffin and the talent Francois has, it would not surprise me to see him have year like he had his freshman year. His experience in big time games (Alabama, Florida, Miami, etc), also gives him a huge advantage in the quarterback competition.
FAU also has Nick Tronti and Justin Agner in the mix at the quarterback position as well. Tronti transferred from Indiana before last season and Agner started his career at Kent State. Agner and Tronti seemed to be the top quarterbacks in spring practice. Cordel Littlejohn also figures to compete for the job and add depth at the position.
Let’s take a quick look at a few things that both Robison and Francois do well on the field.
*Below is clip of Robison throwing a deep touchdown pass. When Robison was decisive last year he looked sharp and efficient. He makes a good pre-snap read and when his back-foot plants, he throws an accurate downfield pass to an open receiver.
*Below is a clip of Robison demonstrating his athleticism. Watch him put an impressive move on the defender to make him miss before straight lining it down field.
*Last clip of Robison. Again, he is decisive here and makes a good pre-snap read. Quick drop and quick release on a clutch 4th and 7.
*Below is a clip of Francois standing in the pocket and taking a shot as he delivers a touchdown that helped spark a comeback for Florida State.
*Below is another good example of Francois throwing from the pocket with people in his face. He throws an accurate ball and puts it high where only his receiver can catch it. Good coverage by the corner here, but a great example of throwing his receiver open.
*Below is a clip of Francois showing his ability to run. While he doesn’t choose to run often, he can when he needs to.
I find the FAU quarterback competition one of the more interesting competitions in the conference. The news of Francois transferring just broke recently, Robison’s future is up in the air, and Tronti and Agner are good quarterback options who by reports, had good springs. Anything can happen and it will be interesting to see what happens long term, but in my opinion Francois is too talented not to be the favorite to start. If Francois is playing like he did in 2016, FAU should be back in a bowl and possibly contend for a conference title.